Category Archives: Song of the Week

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Tinariwen – Imdiwanin ahi Tifhamam

Inspired by the Saharan storm that rolled in to dust Great Britain last week, we stick with the desert blues. Tinariwen’s newest studio album provides the music this week and the Hub are happy to see that Glastonbury festival have confirmed Tinariwen as an act at this year’s festival.

It was suggested in an earlier post that much of North American blues can owe its origins to the musicians of North Africa. But what of another great American genre: Country and Western? Now, if it is possible to a trace this back to Mali it would be quite a scoop as it is generally assumed that country music’s origins are based in Irish folk, particularly owing to the central role played by the fiddle. Other instruments central to the genre originate in other migrant populations – the Spanish guitar for example.  However one instrument, the banjo, is particularly distinctive and unique to Country music. According to this source, “the banjo, as we can begin to recognize it, was made by African slaves based on instruments that were indigenous to their parts of Africa”. Indeed, variants of the banjo have existed for centuries through-out Southern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and across the Middle- and Far-East; yet their origins appear to all come back to Africa.

So, some of the instruments most strongly associated with Country and Western originated from North Africa but that’s not quite enough to claim that the genre itself originated there. Listening closely to the many great examples of Malian blues allows us to ponder the link but that is all. But then in steps fiddle-playing New Yorker Fats Kaplin of Dead Reckoning Records who appears with Tinariwen on this week’s Track of the Week. Kaplin’s fiddle work merges into the familiar Tinariwen set-up with the greatest of ease, in fact it is barely noticeable as a cross-genre collaboration till about half-way through. It should be obvious. Interstingly, the cover picture for the new album ‘Emmaar’ – on reflection – is a typically Western scene: in the foreground is a ranch with the band with horses flashing past whilst behind them a cactus-studded frontier stretches far off into the distance, eventually merging into dry unforgiving hills. In fact, it is difficult to deduce whether the photo is of the Wild West or of the Sahel.

Perhaps that’s the point.

Tinariwen – Imdiwanin ahi Tifhamam

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Bambugu Blues

On the 24th of March ‘The Rough Guide to Mali’ was released by the world music and travel giants Rough Guides. The first track is ‘Jama Ko’ the song used here on The Hub the first time  Bassekou Kouyate was our choice for Track of the Week.

He returns again with inspiration from another ‘Rough Guide’ compilation, this time making an appearance on ‘The Rough Guide to Desert Blues’. Malian musicians usually associated with desert blues are Tinarwen, Tamikrest and Ali Farka Touré. Mali’s northern regions are where the Sahel merges into the great Sahara Desert – a truely remarkable part of the world. Mali is famous for its music but many are unaware that even the desert sings with a enormous deep hums.

Touré’s home town of  Niafunké is one of the small towns that sit as  a gateway between Bamako and the Malian South and the vast, sparsely-populated North. Bassekou Kouyate, from the southern-central Ségou region, has picked up on themes of the desert blues in ‘Bambugu Blues’ by opening with a trademark lazy guitar lick before launching into gusty, mesmeric vocals. The song sets sail on a quintessentially rolling, slumbering, desert rhythm. It continues along that path to make a truly memorable song.

 

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Bambugu Blues

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Salif Keita – Africa

It time to celebrate as Salif Keita is coming to London’s Barbican Centre on the 8th of April. What better way to celebrate than with some afrobeat from the excellent Malian musician himself, conducted in that cheesy fashion that only afrobeat can get away with, perhaps with the exception of some 80s classics.

Salif Keita is an exceptional musician, and has already appeared on the Track of the Week once before.  Live music producers Serious have been instrumental in bringing artists like Keita to perform in Britain for years. In reference to the upcoming concert they had this to say:

“Salif Keita has been at the forefront of modern Malian music for many years. Dubbed the ‘golden voice of Africa’ (fRoots), Keita has over that time extended musical frontiers and carved out a distinctive musical voice, in which rock, funk and jazz combine with the deepest West African griot traditions.”

Contrary to the focus provided here on Salif’s excitable dance beats he is an exceptional producer of emotive, beautiful and ambient music with an fantastic use of layered vocals. As Serious continue:

“In this show Salif will be exploring a new acoustic direction, evolving from his recent shows which were geared towards a heavily-amplified sound.”

As many nights in the Barbican before it, Keita – in all likelihood – is going to produce an evening of real beauty and intimacy; something really special.

But hold that thought for one moment as here is a real African anthem if there ever was one, with a cultural collage of a music video to boot. Enjoy Salif Keita’s ‘Africa’ in all its full fun-filled glory. Happy Wednesday!

 

Salif Keita – Africa

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Rokia Traoré – Mouneissa

It is time to return to a Mali Interest Hub favourite; Rokia Traoré. This week track is the title track from Rokia’s first album ‘Mouneissa‘ – the second time this album has produced a ‘Track of the Week’.

Mouneissa – the song – is a dreamy, relaxing song carried along by simple melodies. It summarises the whole album which is inculpated by the innocence of youth. As one critic writes: “Elle y déroule un climat de sensualité et de tendresse extrême (she unwraps an atmosphere of sensuality and extreme tenderness)”. Such are Rokia’s musical gifts.

Rokia Traoré – Mouneissa

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ali Farka Touré & Corey Harris – Cypress Grove

This week’s track is to mark the unveiling of a statue of Ali Farka Touré in Bamako last weekend.  Here he joins up with American blues and reggae guitarist/vocalist Corey Harris. Ali Farka Touré once boldly asserted that the beloved American musical genre was “nothing but African”. His claim has scholarly backing too – notably from ethnomusicologist Gerhard Kubik. The relationship between American music and that of Africa is a truly fascinating area of study. Indeed for those of you out there who are intrigued by musical history to get you started on this subject here is a handy introductory excerpt from Gerhard Kubik’s book Africa and the Blues. Explained in the book is the general theory that:

“…the American blues were a logical development that resulted from specific processes of cultural interaction among eighteenth- to nineteenth-century African descendants in the United States, under certain economic and social conditions”.

Though it is worth adding that this ‘cultural interaction’ and ‘certain economic and social conditions’ were not always terribly pretty.

Leaving the history lesson behind we fast-forward to the 21st century. In 2002 the collaborative album ‘Mississippi to Mali‘ by Corey Harris was released. On this album Ali Farka Touré features playing under Harris’s vocals in a cover of the Skip James song Cypress Grove Blues, originally recorded in 1931.

Ali Farka Touré & Corey Harris – Cypress Grove

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Inna Modja – Let’s Go to Bamako

It’s time for a change from the usual with some straight-up Malian-French pop music. This Saturday marks the 103rd International Women’s Day with this year’s theme being ‘Inspiring Change’. Therefore this week’s track is a debutant to the Hub and also hails from an under-explored genre of music in regards to the history of the Track of the Week.

Inna Modja, born in Bamako, is a Malian-French model and singer. Specialising in soul-pop, O’Brien of All Music writes that she “later abandoned” the music of her “African roots” in favour of a commercial career in pop music. Whether ‘abandon’ is the appropriate term is up for debate – she was mentored by Salif Keita whilst she was a backing singer in his band. O’Brien suggests with an air of disappointment that nothing of his influence appears to remain in her more mainstream approach. However it is worth pointing out that in some of her songs, including ‘Let’s Go to Bamako’, an element of soul-reggae  shines through, particularly in the percussion and rhythm guitar. Its hard to say if she picked this up from Salif or ‘blue-eyed‘ soul, Coffee-house scene musicians like Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz – a friend with who she has collaborated with. As always, its probably a bit of both.

Nevertheless, whatever she has done with her roots she has done so with some success. This success has so far topped-out with her single ‘French Cancan (monsieur sainte Nitouche)’ which reached No.1 in France and also did moderately well in other French-speaking countries around the world. She has sung about Mali and Bamako in particular on a few occasions, this week’s track is one example of this.

Inna Modja – Let’s Go to Bamako

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Damon Albarn,  Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté & Friends – Makelekele

A really potent song this week as we stray back to 2002 and the collaborative album put together by Damon Albarn alongside prominent Malian musicians Afel Bocoum and Toumani Diabaté. ‘Makelekele’ is a racy and punchy song, similar to the song ‘Soubour’ by Songhoy Blues. It oozes imagery of the Africa of the imminent future. Youthful, colourful, headstrong. Full of life and potential.

Few references allude to the origin of the word ‘Makelekele’. It could refer to the district of the Congolese city of Kinshasa – and by looking at the other song titles from the album ‘Mali Music‘ this theory is just about plausible. Songs entitled ‘Tennessee Hotel’, ‘Spoons’ and ‘4am at Touamani’s’ are all equally obscure but still allude to some sort of initial inspirational spark – a moment where all these musicians came together to build up a small idea. Yet this is the nature of successful collaborative projects – ideas can extrude from anywhere and you run with it. The best ones become songs.

Whatever the original intentions for ‘Makelekele’ it is still very fun listening.

Damon Albarn, Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté & Friends – Makelekele

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Ali Farka Touré – Yer Bounda Fara

This week’s track comes from Ali Farka Touré’s final solo album “Savane“. The album was written and completed by Touré in the knowledge that he cancer was terminal and it was released posthumously four months after his death in 2006.

This week’s track has been picked in testament to Ali Farka Touré’s own statement about the album:

“I know this is my best album ever. It has the most power and is the most different.”

The song seamlessly blends the blues with traditional Malian sounds. Its a very simplistic song with few instruments yet its power is stocked in the call-and-response lyrics of the chorus that burst out from the steady, jovial bounce of the guitar.

Ali Farka Touré – Yer Bounda Fara

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Amkoullel – Kalan

This week’s track comes from hip-hop rap innovator Amkoullel. He’s been musically active since 1993, so he is no new comer. In fact, he has been quite the pioneer during the last two decades where hip-hop’s popularity in Mali has boomed. With a “strong social commitment” Amkoullel has developed “an original style” by mixing traditional instruments (ngoni  kora and djembe) into his work to complement his strong African – and Malian – identity.

This identity was strongly displayed during the early days of the disability across the Middle-East and North Africa that begun in December 2010. In 2013, Amkoullel performed in the birthplace of hip-hop at an event in New York alongside other prominent Middle-Eastern and North African rappers. He impressed not only musically but also in providing an alternative wisdom to the incumbent that has always been a quintessential trait of hip-hop. He wrote a song called ‘SOS’ 8 months before the eventual coup d’etat. Like many Malian musicians writing during this time it was an attempt to capture the nation’s mood and articulate the signs of trouble it to the political class.

Interesting, rap in this context is constructive, collaborative and used to bring people together for peace. In Britain, at least till very recently, hip hop has usually been associated with crime, gangs and delinquent youths. Even in more sophisticated terms it is described as espousing a ‘rampant materialism’ and encouraging a widespread desire to “make more money and live flashier than anyone else”, as stated by Ekow Eshun, director of the Institute for Contemporary Arts. In Africa and the Middle-East it has the power to mean something very different.

Though little information is available about his upbringing his Wikipedia page states that he studied law whilst he continued to pursue his music career. A great achievement in itself but it does hint that Amkoullel is a member of a growing group of middle-class Malian rappers, which does more or less mirror a global trend in the changing complexion of the music genre. The global movement that is hip-hop music has been bolstered and sped along by the rise of the internet. Accordingly, Amkoullel has a twitter account and a well-developed Soundcloud page.

 
Amkoullel – Kalan

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Salif Keita – Madan

It is now over a year since French military forces responded to Mali’s emergency calls for urgent support following a coup d’etat, collapse in civil authority and the huge momentum gathering behind a patchwork of militant groups. Following a very eventful intervening 12 months, the return of elections and stability has not deterred people from being cautious about the fractured and vulnerable state of Malian affairs.

Mali’s music scene has been equally cautious at climbing out of its shell. As far as most mainstream Western broadcasters are concerned, the main development in this regard has been the arrival of the Africa Express that introduced the previously-unknown and the up-and-coming of Mali to some Malian and world greats – including Salif Keita, the artist behind this week’s Track of the Week. Gemma Cairney, who was in Mali at the time with the BBC, was write to stress in this interview the difficulties Keita faced due to his albinism and the “crusading” work he has undertaken to support the albino community in Africa. Despite being a direct relation to Sundiata Keita – the founder of the Mali Empire in the early 13th century – he has battled to become the “Golden Voice of Africa”.

Sadly, the Festival au Desert is still ‘In Exile’ and just goes to how difficult the current situation is for Mali’s musicians away from Bamako. Tourism, a large part of the music industry, has taken a big hit. In the context of the present and reflecting on recent past, the song – released on the 2002 album ‘Moffou’ – takes on a nostalgic edge.  This week track is a proper feel-good song, but it does hark back to an era of stability. The work of Africa Express to “revive” normality is an act which – by its very nature – continues the state of exception. The one-off air-drop into Mali has been a great contribution, no doubt, but in another 12 months can we expect to have feel-good, almost care-free afro-beat emanating from Mali on the global airwaves? What is the role of Mali’s rising stars and its legends? In the last 12 months a brave new Mali has been formed. In the next 12 we’ll have new songs and musicians to tell us about it.

For certain, Mali’s musicians have been excellent in their articulation of a nation’s feelings on the conflict and the turmoil. Unfortunately in this regard their job is not over yet.

Salif Keita – Madan